What to expect when reading bi-polar wife

Thoughts and feelings of living with bi-polar as a wife, mother, and person in the world.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Welcome to mental club; the only rule of mental club is that you don't talk about mental club

After a lovely Christmas with my work colleagues, where I organise secret Santa, make everyone wear a silly hat and generally fill the office with cheer, I move on to my new job. Its a bit daunting as these new colleagues know nothing of my brush with insanity, so I don't have the safety net of love and understanding. But I'm feeling ok.

I'm doing two and a half days to start off with. Within the first week I get a letter telling me that my CBT course is due to start in the last week of January, every Thursday for 12 weeks. Its called, "Behavioural activation." It sounds like the search for my "On" button or some kind of Pavlovian brain washing into happiness and joy. I wanted to go on the course so much, but now it is rushing toward me with pace, I get cold feet. I wonder if I am up to the challenge of joining a group of mentally disordered folk, and find myself spending time speculating about how awful it might be. I also have to negotiate telling my new colleagues that I'm going to be off half a day a week for the next three months. I start off by stating I've been ill and am having some treatment. Its not dishonest, but its not telling the whole truth either. I'll see how things go before spilling my guts to all and sundry.

I turn up on the Thursday morning at the red bricked, barred windowed home of the psychotherapy team, and buzz for entry. My mouth is dry, my heart pounds and my feet drag like concrete. Its taking all of my will to force me into the building where I am met by a group of faces all looking as freaked out as me. When I sit down I can see everyone is crippled with fear and embarrasment, and we are all either staring at the wall, the floor or a fishing magazine. Its horrible. The two group facillitators appear with their, "Oh so mentally well" faces and invite the group upstairs. We shuffle as though shackeled togther like convicts up the steps and sit is a semi circle of chairs. I wonder if we are all scanning the room, subconciously looking for the least mentally ill looking person to sit next to. We can't tell so end up rushing to the nearest seat available.

As I sit on my orange nylon covered chair, I feel the wave of despair crashing into my soul. I've hit rock bottom and realise the seriousness of my condition. The hot tears prickle my eyes and roll down my cheeks as i crumple onto my lap. I'm tempted to run and hide but there is nowhere to go. I feel shockingly exposed amongst these fellow sufferers mirroring our desperation. We're all as sick and helpless as each other. I don't think things can get any worse. Reality is a cruel mistress indeed.

We have some rules to this interactive mad fest. We mustn't talk about eachother and break anonymity outside of the room. People can talk to you or comment on your feedback/homework, but we must always remain loving in our honesty. You must turn up every week to the course and do the homework, otherwise there is no point. Oh yes, and its going to feel uncomfortable, anxiety inducing and we will feel resistance to change. Great. We start off by scoring ourselves on a few scales - depression, social functioning, anxiety. They tell us that at the end of the course our score will PROVE to us that we are better. We will be activated and returned to the real world as functioning human beings. Or, we will give up the course, and crawl back into the comforting although despairing cave we came out of.

When we leave most of us are trying not to run - power walking without breaking out into a sprint. No eye contact, and scuttling to our cars for the safety of isolation. What a God awful hour of my life that was. But now I've jumped the first hurdle, next week won't be so bad. I hope. I have reading to do and some questions to answer. I am exhausted and feel emotionally hung over. Whoever thought group therapy was glamourous and for the famous was completely wrong.

But seriously, it felt like sitting in a bad sitcom with all different personalities filling the breach.I know I'm going to be the over excited chatty one that gets on everyones nerves as I can't stand silences. There is definately someone there who is really well and looks embarrassed to be taking up the precious time of the NHS, and a few who look non committal and may not stay the course. We've got a contrary pedant who will drive us all to distraction and a few that look like rabbits caught in head lights. Saying that though, I feel relieved to have been in a room full of very average people, all struggling the way that I am, and for a short moment of peace, I realise I am no longer alone. I have friends landing on my desert island.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Changing jobs

So, I've been back at work 6 months and I've stuck at doing half the week - I can't manage a full week. It makes me very stressed, over tired and my depression symptoms increase. My colleagues have been great, and have agreed to tell me if I'm starting to look dodgy or behaving wildly. They tend to see things before I do, which is great as I'm sometimes too caught up in what I am doing to have perspective.

I'm still prone to mood dips, but thankfully I haven't had a depression relapse and if I feel things are getting too much, I take some time out. I still get the intrusive thinking, but rather than hideous self mutilation visions, the thoughts are more along the line of thinking I'm going to run across the office and moon, or shout "Cock" in the middle of a really important meeting. Thankfully I don't act out on these thoughts, although some of my colleagues would also probably want to shout out "Cock" in meetings.

And then I see a job advertised in the monthly bulletin which I would love to do. For a week I struggle between wanting to apply for the job, or, not taking the risk and staying put in what I am doing.  I fill in the form and leave it up to the employment gods as to whether or not I'll get an interview. I carry on as normal and am stunned when I receive an interview date, and feel excited and worried all at the same time. The problem with being depressed is that it effects your self confidence, and also makes you over sensitive and fearful about change. I procrastinate about the interview and fail to start writing the report presentation required as I'm faffing about. I talk to my senior manager and ask her advice. In her wisdom she tells me that it is just an interview. Even if I do succeed in interview, I can still turn the job down if they offer it to me.

So I do the report and turn up on the day feeling under prepared and anxious. I stick my memory stick in their laptop and it doesn't work! We try again and it still doesn't work. Is this a sign? I have to go ahead using paper copies and luck. I get thoroughly grilled and also have to field questions about my attendance. I tell them that I am mentally ill and also say that if offered the job I'd like to do it part time as I am currently better off working less hours. I also throw in that I will be attending CBT in the near future and will be out of the office for 2 hours, once per week, over a 12 week period. Looking back it really sounds like I was trying NOT to get the job.

I leave the interview thinking that there is no way on earth I'm going to get the job. So when I receive a phone call at 3pm and am told I've been successful I am completely shocked. They are obviously desperate or stupid. Or both. I accept as this for me is a dream job. I will start in January and heaven help us all.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Darren is replaced and I'm referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Darren is leaving. You spend the best part of a year getting to know someone, and then they selfishly move to Canada with their family. Obviously I take it personally. He did tell me he would more than likely be my psychiatrist whilst I remained in mental health services. He told me he wasn't planning on going anywhere. I am miffed and also worried about who might turn up in his place. I am not best pleased that I'm going to have to explain my whole history and diagnosis all over again either. I'm also informed that if they cannot recruit an immediate candidate, they will employ a locum and continue to advertise the post. This throws me completely as you build a relationship with your health professionals and any change can be very unsettling. Styles differ, clinical knowledge and opinions vary, and some people you see you just don't like.

And this is my experience at my next psychiatric appointment with "The Locum". He is spanish, lacks charisma, doesn't know anything about me and cannot wait to get me out of his office. He keeps glancing at his watch every time I speak, or looks at the clock on the wall. I'm sure he is "Huffing" too. Both my CPN and I are disappointed and agree that the sooner the NHS recruit a permanent member of staff the better. I'm glad it wasn't just me who thought he was dreadful. At least I still have contact with my cpn on a regular basis for support. Heaven help me if the Spaniard stays.

Thankfully I've got 4 months between now and my next psychiatric appointment, and I also have a referral appointment with the psychotherapy team. The consensus is that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is very useful for recovery from depression, and offers strategies to minimise relapse. Its a practical, solution based approach, which thankfully, does not involve dredging up the nasty memories of the past and flagellating myself  with shame and guilt.  When I ring to confirm my appointment, they give me the address of where to go and who I am seeing. On the day of my referral appointment, I get there on time but stare at the building for a while before I go in. The building is imposing with red brick frontage and bars on the window. The entry door is thick and heavy, with no window and a CCTV buzzer entry system that you have to speak into. I'm depressed, not dangerous. When I actually get into the building there is a thick glass panel with a little hole to speak through, and a jobs worth receptionist with a face like a shrunken prune. Its stereotypical beyond even what I can imagine. I sit in the waiting area with a few other "Victims" and all us us try not to make eye contact with anyone else. I feel like I've been invited to attend room 101. Maybe I'll go in and come out like a lobotomized robot!

Thankfully the therapist I see is approachable, friendly and honest. She also has good taste in shoes. I like this. This is why I cry my way through most of the interview (not the shoes, the other stuff),and we both come to the conclusion that therapy will be a good thing. She feels that I am ready to engage with treatment and understand the commitment involved. The only problem is, its group therapy and I'll have to wait 6-12 months. That is a long time to be living without any healthy coping mechanisms. But, I'm back at work, I've got my cpn, family and friends, and hopefully, a new psychiatrist to get me through. I promised myself I would do whatever it takes. So, I'll wait and try to stay well in the mean time.

I try to speculate what a group therapy session might be like. All I can't muster is the feeling of being completely exposed with a load of nutters, just like me, all in the same room.  God help me.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Do I tell them the truth or lie

Going back to work is exhilarating and terrifying. You feel like you are being parachuted into a whole other universe, in which all of the staff are confident and smiling, and you are all nervous and insecure. As I said, I went down the route of honesty so I have brief conversations with colleagues about mental illness.Its all politeness. I don't feel ready to share the stripped back truth - they might run away, or change desks.To my joy and surprise, most of them are really interested and genuinely supportive. The other thing is that they already seem to accept that I'm a bit  "Touched" and are surprised that I'm the last one to know. Oh my God! My keeping up a front was obviously no front at all. I'm not sure if I'm happy about this or not.

I "Phase" back into work, phase being the right word as everyone is busy and full of direction, and I just sit about looking dazed and confused. I have no idea how to start my computer and when I finally get into it, it uploads changes for 6 hours as I've been away so long. I really need someone to tell me what to do. I'm all lost. Sometimes I wish work was more like "Charlie and the chocolate factory" with little oompa loompas running about being helpful, and music and dance. Although I have adult company, its a bit dull really and I wonder why I was so excited about coming back. I make busy, making my desk look pretty.

I chat to my boss over coffee, who assures me I will be all normal and in the groove before I know it. I discuss with her what answer to give when less well know colleagues ask me where I've been. I consider the, "I've just been very ill" response, and let people conjure up all kinds of hideous illnesses and feel all sorry for me, or, tell them I'm a bit on the mental side and see what happens.  When I say, "I've been a  little mental" everyone laughs and thinks I'm making a joke. Its followed up by comments of, "Keep taking the tablets, Ha, Ha!!".  Most normal folk do not talk about mental illness so assume that you are making a politically incorrect joke and play along. I'm never quite sure how far to take it, and when I say, "No, really, I've have a serious mental condition" they're still not sure if I'm still taking the mick.

I begin to realise that Joe public are polarised in their response to mental illness. It's either humour or  demonisation. You're either a bit cracked but eccentric and interesting, or an axe wielding pedophile psycho freak. There is no sensible middle ground where you are a bit ill but it doesn't define your whole being. There are also a lot of twats about that bandy around phrases like schizo, psycho, mental case. You know the ones. Stupid people. These are the ones who make the world a miserable place for those of us that have to live with a condition of mental illness, and will be made to feel like a pariah if we own up to the truth. There are some lovely people, but you have to seek them out.

Its difficult trying to project which type of person you might be dealing with on any given day. Stupidity and ignorance are egalitarian characteristics. Everyone is prone to the weakness, and the suit you wear or your posh accent can hide the most archaic mentality. If I'm going to be honest I realise I have to survive the onslaught and see it for what it is. Ignornace. I need to toughen up, accept myself and all the quirks and knuckle down. Bollocks to the idiots. I'll crack on regardless.I will be a whole person, and not characterise myself but the demon of depression. I will try to be the real me.